This Month's Picks

Complete Surrender (CD)

Slow Club
From the twee indie-folk of their 2009 debut Oh Yeah to the darker and richly layered Paradise, Sheffield duo Rebecca Taylor and Charles Watson (Slow Club) continue to sonically evolve with their third full-length album, Complete Surrender; their most self assured and streamlined effort to date. Heavily influenced by R&B and girl group sounds, Taylor and Watson stray from their panoptic song structure of the past to embrace a more stripped down approach. The delicate simplicity of these more basic song arrangements only further enhances what Slow Club is known best for, powerfully rich vocal harmonies earnestly expressing love and loss. With soulful numbers like “Suffering You, Suffering Me” and “Not Mine To Love,” Complete Surrender often feels like a tear stained pillow fight at Stax Records. With that in mind, it never comes of as gimmicky or retro. Instead, Slow Club manages to combine Northern soul with bedroom pop to create the breakup anthems of your dreams.More
Genre: Rock

Sound Of Change (CD)

Dirty Heads

For their new album, Dirty Heads have changed things up a bit. The reggae-influenced Cali band have made things pop a bit more, heightening the impact of the beats and beachy melodies on songs like “My Sweet Summer.” “Burn Slow” sees the band going more full-on hip-hop, erupting into an unexpectedly speedy flow partway through that serves as a counterbalance to the song’s overall laid-back vibe. On the title track, the band seems to address its own ever-evolving sound, building up acoustic guitars, harmonies and a rap-like delivery into a grandiose chorus, hitting on the allure of folk-rockers like Mumford & Sons. Occasionally Sound of Change falls prey to trying to please everyone all the time, but what they’ve lost in having one steady sound they’ve gained in wide appeal, as the band aptly handles every avenue down which it takes it sound and sheds some of the overt Sublime influence that previously marked the band. Fans of Dirty Heads should have no problem getting with the band’s new sound, and the winning Sound of Change should see plenty of new fans flocking to the Dirty Heads fold as well.

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Genre: Rock

Constricting Rage of the Merciless (CD)

Goatwhore

Goatwhore have little use for the trappings of the specificities of heavy metal subgenres. The so-called blackened death metal band will start with pulverizing beats and riffs in a song like the epic “Schadenfreude” and promptly move into melodic, straight-forward metal riffery and growled yet intelligible vocals detailing the downward spiral of humanity. They touch on thrash metal with the early Metallica-inspired “FBS,” packing as many dynamic changes into the song as possible without sounding busy or sloppy. And “Bearing Teeth For Revolt” has some real old-school metal flair, drumming up fond memories of Judas Priest with its tasty licks. So Goatwhore might not like being penned in when it comes to crafting their nuanced metal mayhem. So what? With Constricting Rage of the Merciless, New Orleans’ Goatwhore take what they like about various metal subgenres and weld them together into something powerful and unique.

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Genre: Rock

Life Is Easy (CD)

Bright Light Bright Light

If Erasure’s Andy Bell was born a millennial, he might have sounded like Bright Light Bright Light. Rod Thomas’ project can be described as disco-folk—Thomas first worked as a folk artist, busking and recording demos until working with the right producers to find his sound—so his second album, Life Is Easy, sounds like a nu-disco record with a folk core. Songs like “There Are No Miracles” hearken back to a time when danceable pop songs had heart, as Thomas sings about hard life lessons over dazzling production. On album highlight “I Wish We Were Leaving,” Thomas gets to work with musical hero Elton John (with whom he’s toured), singing with an invigorated John and crafting a soothing New Age-inspired pop tune. And just when Life Is Easy is in danger of feeling a bit sleepy, Thomas drops “An Open Heart” into the mix, a booming, irresistible synth-popper, and the house-inspired “Good Luck,” successfully bridging the gap between the ’80s pop that has informed Thomas’ sound and modern, radio-ready dance music. On Life Is Easy, Thomas creates dynamic, modern pop with real feeling that somehow sounds effortless.

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Genre: Rock

High Life (CD)

Brian Eno, Karl Hyde

Two months after releasing Someday World, wry public intellectual and musical polymath Brian Eno is releasing another album in collaboration with Underworld's crooning braintrust and techno-minded guitar manipulator Karl Hyde. Birthed out of the same sessions that gave us Someday World, High Life is less pop and more pure polyrhythmic experimentalism. The record is a little more repetitive, a little more meditative, but equally high energy and equally afro-kraut injected. Decidedly weirder than the last record, I think this is the album I was hoping the last one would be. Funny that this one should be called High Life while the previous record owed much more to that specific Ghanaian genre of guitar pop. This record traverses electronic glitch skitter shuffle to filthy dense guitar processing expertly and occasionally melodically, returning now and then to the strange global pop of the group's previous collaboration. Recommended.

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Genre: Rock

Relief (CD)

Vacationer

Vacationer are described as a “Nu-Hula” band. What the hell is that, you might ask? It’s what you want to be listening to at the beach, on vacation, all summer basically—truthfully, Relief couldn’t be a more appropriate name for this album. Kenny Vasoli’s smooth vocals whisper sweet nothings float over the band’s cool, jangling riffs on songs like “Glimpse,” pillowy synths on “Heavenly” and funk bass on “In the Grass.” They’re kind of like a more laid-back Vampire Weekend or happier Tennis, writing immediately likeable songs with knotty little melodies on songs like “The Wild Life” that sneak into your head and stay there, even as they’re dressed up as islandy trifles. “There’s no point to making plans,” Vasoli sings on “The Wild Life” over a reggae-infused beat and chill vibraphones, and we couldn’t disagree. Here’s your summer soundtrack.

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Genre: Rock

SomeKindaWonderful (CD)

SomeKindaWonderful

SomeKindaWonderful seemingly have come out of nowhere with a knockout first record of smart, radio-friendly pop rock that proves producing such music is easier said than done. The story goes that lead singer Jordy Towers left L.A. for the Midwest after a major label deal didn’t go so well (you may remember his almost-hit “Pretty Monsters,” with B.o.B.). While there, Towers hooked up with local musicians Ben Schigel and guitarist Matt Gibson, drunkenly jamming one night and coming up with future hit “Reverse,” which now can be found ruling rock radio with its “Be My Baby” Motown beat and Towers’ irresistible vocal hook. Good thing he made that move— Somekindawonderful aptly bounce between lust-fueled pub rock (“Cornbread,” “Honeymoon”) and soulful synth-pop (“Police,” “Hard for Days,” “Caveman”), somehow marrying the two in such a way that their songs wouldn’t sound out of place on just about any station. Led by Towers’ raspy croon, there doesn’t seem to be much that SomeKindaWonderful can’t (and don’t) do on their debut. Here’s to second chances.

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Genre: Rock

Stravinsky in Hollywood (DVD)

Igor Stravinsky, like so many before and after him, was lured to commercial Hollywood from the world of fine art during the studio boom of the late '30s and while he lived happily in Hollywood from 1939 until his death in 1971, his work participating in that world has been relatively underdocumented until now. While Stravinsky's music was usually left unused by the various projects for which it was commissioned, it would often get reincorporated into non-cinematic compositions and thus we are able to get a sort of what-if perspective along side the fascinating story of the great composer's time in Hollywood. Marco Capalbo (longtime editor for Werner Herzog) has directed an excellent and informative film on a subject new to both fans of Stravinsky and historians of Hollywood.More

Speechless (CD)

Sebastian Mikael
Exceptionally talented 24 year old Swedish-Ethiopian singer and guitarist Sebastian Mikael is releasing his first full-length and it's something to get excited about. A true craftsman, Mikael migrated from a successful producing project in Sweden to start again in music school in America, honing his craft at the Musician's Institute in Los Angeles and the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Now, with an impressive series of collaborators including Rick Ross and Wale, Mikael is ready to show off his sophisticated and often inspirational R&B. Tending towards lyrics about life rather than just love, Mikael's sensuous love songs give off an intelligence and worldliness impressive for such a newcomer. Fans of Miguel should particularly take note.More
Genre: Soul

Fuego (CD)

Phish

Already, Fuego is being hailed as the best Phish album since Billy Breathes, which is a unique distinction. When BB came out in 1996, it was the band's most concise, pop-oriented album. Short songs and hooky focus that made a lot of new fans but potentially alienated some old ones who were looking for more long-form progressive folk-reggae-jazz-rock of the kind they were used to. After BB the band generally continued in that poppier direction, still turning those concise songs into lengthy workouts on stage but the studio-Phish was, from that point on, a different animal. Fuego is unique because it's a crossover more than a throwback. It incorporates the bands mature hookiness and focus as well as the live stretching out their fans follow them around the country for. Elements of classic progressive rock are everywhere here, so it's great to see Bob Ezrin, the legendary producer of Pink Floyd's The Wall and Lou Reed's Berlin, behind the boards here, acting also as studio adviser, encouraging the band to make the record a closer representation of their live show. This record should certainly grow a large garden of new Phish fans while supplying the die hards with more fodder for live improvisation and more classics to sing along to.

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Genre: Rock